“You are just SO pretty!”
My daughter hears some variation on this statement at least ten times a day. And she’s two years old. I get it; I gave birth to a knockout. I’ve seen her dimples, her coy smile, and her dark eyes. She’s so skinny you could use her to skewer hors d’ouevres. We think that these are innocent statements about the charm of a child, but are they? Stick around the playground long enough: I promise, the homely and unruly children are not the beneficiaries of such compliments.
Take another look at Zoe. People really are referring to her physical appearance when they tell her she is beautiful.
My husband and I frequently tell her she is beautiful, but we do so when she has just climbed out of bed and her hair resembles a rat’s nest and she is too grumpy to speak. We tell her she is stunning when naked and covered in yogurt in her high chair. And we explain to her that it has nothing to do with how she looks. It is certainly possible to say these things and genuinely refer to a child’s spirit. The issue is that 99.9% of the time these comments are just about appearance. If a stranger approaches my daughter and says, “Ohh I just love your dress! Aren’t you cute?” what are the odds those remarks about her spunk?
What is the outcome of hearing such a message from the time you are two years old?
- You understand the exaggerated importance of appearance and spend the rest of your life primping to get as many of these compliments as you can, and
- You recognize that you really are attractive and assume that this makes you a more worthwhile person. You think you are somehow better than people who don’t look as “good” as you.
I don’t want Zoe absorbing these messages because they’re not true. My whole life I heard, “Oh, you’re so smart,” and it took me nineteen years to figure out that wasn’t worth shit. Smart? Who cares about smart when you’re miserable enough to die?
Looks have nothing to do with character and every human being is worthwhile merely by existing. We are children of God and that is enough.
Obviously I can’t control what other people choose to tell my daughter, but I can choose how I explain these comments to her. Right now she’s too young to understand, but give it another year. She’s smart.
Zoe, you are pretty. You are smart. You don’t get credit for these things. People will treat you differently for these things because they can’t tell up from down. It does not make you special. It does not make you better than any one of God’s creations. Mom and Dad love you because you are a gift from God and you can never do anything to earn that.